I decided to go to sleep in on Friday morning rather than go to the gym. But I managed to get off of work an hour and a half early. Book club was that evening, and I was expecting a new member, a superbly talented singing-actor who I am most attracted to, so I decided to use the unexpected free time to make up my missed morning's workout. And work extra hard I did, 'cause I wanted to be nice and pumped up to impress this new person. I did 30 minutes on the bike, keeping the RPMs around 100 the whole way. I was drenched in sweat, with a steady trickle coming off my forearms onto the bike's console, by the time I was done. Then I hit the weights. On some machines (the military press, for example), I increased the amount of weight I do by 10 pounds. On most of them, I simply didn't decrease the weight on the third set, like I sometimes do. By the time I was done, my arms were bursting out of my t-shirt.
No sopranos showed up for book club, but it was a fantastic meeting nonetheless. And we had a sexy and über-intelligent (quite possibly sexy because she came across as so über-intelligent and not because of any physical attributes) new member, so the big workout was not for naught.
This month's book was The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. This story takes place about 40 years into the future. A corporation that employs high-functioning autists in biostatistical analysis is beginning human trials of a procedure that has cured autism in chimps. The corporation threatens its autists with dismissal if they don't "volunteer" for the treatment. The protagonist, Lou Arrendale, is faced with the issue of change: if he is cured of autism, will he be the same person he was before the procedure? Through the course of the novel we follow the daily events of Lou's life as he undergoes gradual, everyday changes and contemplates what it means to be normal.
This book inspired some fascinating discussion revolving around autism and other mental/behavioral disorders as well as the construction of the novel. One of our members is a doctor, and he was able to shed some light on the physiological manifestations of autism. (He brought a photo comparing PETscans of a normal brain and an autistic brain.) Another member brought a fascinating article by Oliver Sacks (just published in the New Yorker Magazine) discussing the varying perceptions of speed, time, and space. All in all, it was a most stimulating meeting.
As you'll recall, the French soprano I recently sang for suggested a take up kung fu or tae kwon do as a means of strengthening up my midsection to improve my support mechanism in singing. The fearsome danger_chick, recently black-belted in tae kwon do, glowingly recommended her school as well as another in Cambridge but warned that they were both expensive. I couldn't afford to do join. But Bri, himself a kung fu aficionado, recommended a place in Chinatown that is free. I believe the group is called the Chinese Mercantile Association, and it is hidden away in some nondescript building off of Kneeland Street. He invited me to come check it out Saturday afternoon.
We showed up and I was nervous as hell. I walked into this little room, with fans whirring, elderly Chinese sitting around playing mah jong or reading Chinese newspapers, and about 10 or so young men, Asian and Caucasian, lined up doing stretching exercises. I was expecting a beginner's class or something, but Bri instructed me to join right in with the exercises.
I used to be quite flexible. When I played football in high school, several players and coaches remarked on that. I discovered Saturday afternoon that I have very little flexibility left in my legs. It will probably take me a few weeks of stretching to get that back.
After the stretching I was expected to jump right in with some punching and kicking drills. Um, no, I don't think so! Bri pulled me aside, though, and taught me a couple of basic stances. While he was doing that, the head instructor came over and worked with me. He corrected my stance and taught my some very basic things. He showed me the proper way to punch. He told me I must bend deeper into my stance, so that my thighs are horizontal to the floor. (I didn't achieve horizontalness, clearly, and my quads were on fire.) He showed (by nearly knocking me over) that the position of my feet was weak, whereas a minor tweak gave me a strong foundation he could barely budge me out of. He taught me how to do a couple of basic kicks, inside and outside swivel kicks. And then I jumped into the drills with the other guys. I was slow and felt self-conscious about holding up the line at times. And I guarantee you I was messing up almost every form we drilled. But it was great exercise, and with time and practice I will learn the forms. Only half way through the workout, my shirt and shorts were completely drenched in sweat. As Bri and I left, the instructor advised me to bring two t-shirts next time.
During and after kung fu, I speculated about the connection between martial arts and dance. A lot of the moves I was being asked to do reminded me of moves I did when I was in a show choir in high school. One move requires crossing one leg behind the other to lower the body at an angle, punching diagonally up to one side and diagonally down to the other. This is reminiscent of the Lindey. And several of the kicks reminded me of show choir kicks. I started to imagine that the origins of dance and martial arts must be related, one springing from the other. I know that a martial art practiced in the Bahía region of Brazil is also the basis of a dance in that area. I could imagine warriors practicing their skills to a rhythmic drumming in some ritual, and that over generations developing into a separate art. I'm sure what was for me idle speculation would be a fascinating research project.
I dropped Bri off at the T stop and rushed home to shower and change for danger_chick's going-away party. I showed up at her place, rang the doorbell...no answer. But the outside door was ajar, so I entered and knocked directly on her apartment's door. Nothing. Suddenly it occurred to me that the party might be somewhere else. Idiot me, for failing to read the invite carefully!
I found out that the party was at zzbottom's place, so I headed out there by the route I know best, cutting through Dorchester on Columbia. Big mistake! The 2004 Boston Carnival was in Dorchester, and I ended up driving through the heart of it. Columbia was closed for stretches, so I crawled through neighborhoods I never knew existed in a part of town I was completely unfamiliar with. I sat in my air conditioner-less truck in the sweltering heat, no breeze coming through the open windows on this 90+ degree day. Sitting motionless all that time with the clutch in caused my tendinitic left knee to flare up. The usual 20 minute drive took nearly 2 hours, and by the time I got to the party I was sweaty and no longer in an upbeat mood.
I'm afraid I wasn't very sociable. I spent much longer than expected on my cellphone trying to coordinate a live fantasy football draft that I had skipped in order to be at the party, and when I wasn't on the phone I was probing friends to find out if they knew why a certain someone apparently now hates me. I probably should have skipped the party, seeing as my frame of mind was so off, but I really wanted to see my friends.
There was more sweat on the menu for Sunday. I showed up at Chromatopia to help scholargipsy move some boxes and furniture into storage. Turns out my pick-up wasn't needed, since he got a bigger-than-expected moving truck, but I was able to contribute muscle. It was another warm, humid day, and I spent a good chunk of it running up and down stairs and lifting heavy, cumbersome items. I had a great time! (I spend so much time lethargically sitting in front of a computer monitor that I really do enjoy working up a sweat at manual labor, exhausting as it is.) And I met, treacle_well's new next door neighbor, an attractive young lady who was giving away a futon and shares an Amherst connection with me. <grin>
After we got everything moved into storage, we convened at Wang's for a pleasant late lunch/early dinner in an air-conditioned space. Thank you, scholargipsy and surrealestate for treating us, though you know it wasn't necessary.
I headed home to shower and get ready for church. After mass I spent a very lazy night in front of the boob tube, hydrating myself and watching Miracle, the movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. And finally, in the wee hours, off I went to bed after a very satisfying (and sweaty) weekend.